F.H. Torrington | The Canadian Encyclopedia


F.H. Torrington

F.H. (Frederick Herbert) Torrington. Conductor, organist, violinist, teacher, administrator, b Dudley, near Birmingham, 20 Oct 1837, d Toronto 20 Nov 1917; honorary D MUS (Toronto) 1902.

Torrington, F.H.

F.H. (Frederick Herbert) Torrington. Conductor, organist, violinist, teacher, administrator, b Dudley, near Birmingham, 20 Oct 1837, d Toronto 20 Nov 1917; honorary D MUS (Toronto) 1902. After early local training Torrington studied piano, organ, theory, and choral music for four years in Kidderminster with James Fitzgerald. He became organist at 16 at St Ann's Church in Bewdley.

In 1856 Torrington emigrated to Canada, settling in Montreal, where he worked first as a piano tuner and then as organist-choirmaster at St James St Methodist Church. He also taught privately and at several schools, was conductor of instrumental and choral groups including the Montreal Amateur Musical Union, and for three years was bandmaster of the 25th Regiment, Queen's Own Borderers. He played in an orchestra and performed frequently as an organist and solo violinist. In 1869 he organized the Canadian section of an orchestra directed by Patrick S. Gilmore for a performance at the First Peace Jubilee in Boston. Torrington moved to Boston that year and was organist at King's Chapel, a teacher of piano and organ at the New England Cons, a conductor of various choral groups in the area, and a member of the first violins in the Harvard (later Boston) SO. He also gave organ recitals in Boston, New York, and other eastern US cities.

In 1873 he returned to Canada as organist-choirmaster at the Metropolitan Methodist (later United) Church in Toronto and conductor 1873-94 of the re-formed Toronto Philharmonic Society. Rapidly becoming a central figure in musical life in Toronto, he conducted the Canadian premieres of Mendelssohn's Elijah (1874) and St Paul (1876) and later organized the first Toronto Music Festival (1886) in the Mutual Street Rink Building with a 1000-voice choir, orchestra, a children's choir, and Lilli Lehmann and Max Heinrich as soloists. In 1894 he organized a second festival to open Massey Music Hall, for which event the Festival Chorus was formed. Made up mainly of singers from the disbanding Toronto Philharmonic Society, the new choir gave annual performances of Messiah and other oratorios until 1912. At his farewell performances on 12 and 13 March Torrington conducted the Festival Chorus with the Welsman TSO.

Torrington's influence extended beyond Toronto, as he was music director ca 1874-82 at the Ontario Ladies' College in Whitby and conductor of the Hamilton Philharmonic Society in the 1880s. In 1888 he founded the Toronto College of Music, which in 1890 became the first musical affiliate of the University of Toronto. He remained the director until his death. He was president of the Canadian Society of Musicians in 1892. He also conducted a succession of amateur or semi-professional orchestras in Toronto which, taken together, were the city's closest approximation to symphonic groups before Frank Welsman formed his Toronto Symphony Orchestra in 1906. Typical of these were an amateur orchestra of 50-70 students, organized in 1887, which gave several concerts each year, and another group (1900-1) called the Toronto Permanent Orchestra. In 1882 Torrington conducted the first Toronto performance of Beethoven's 'Emperor' Concerto, with Waugh Lauder as soloist. Also, under the auspices of the Toronto College of Music he founded the Orchestral School to provide playing experience for 100-or-so members. Leaving his post at Metropolitan Church in 1907, he moved to High Park Methodist Church, where he remained until 1914. The composer of the patriotic songs 'Canada, The Gem in the Crown' (I. Suckling 1876) and 'Welcome Home, Brave Volunteers' (Imrie & Graham 1885), and the popular sacred song, 'Abide With Me,' he also wrote 'Our Country and King' (1901) for chorus, and some organ music.

Torrington's major achievement was the development of a strong choral tradition in Toronto, but he also had a personal influence on many musicians in Montreal and Toronto, through his orchestras and teaching. His pupils included G.D. Atkinson, Mary Kerr Austin, Ernest Dainty, H.K. Jordan, Whitney Mockridge, and Charles Wheeler. A full-length portrait of Torrington by J.W.L. Forster, commissioned by friends and former students and completed in 1899, was hung, many years later, in the University of Toronto's Edward Johnson Building.

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